Annual Rice Bowl collection plants worldwide seeds

By Kevin Fitzpatrick, Guest Column

Are you the brave type of person who tries something new or goes exploring while others wait? Or are you more like the proverbial brothers who refuse to try “Life” cereal until coaxing “Mikey” to try it first? 

Many of us are curious about something new but prefer to wait until someone else takes the risk to venture into new territory.

Such was my experience traveling with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) on its “One Body” trip in Ethiopia. We made an unexpected stop when the drivers sensed they needed to add air to the tires on the Land Cruisers.

Young boys crowded around the vehicles crying out “Ferenji,” a derivation of “Frenchy,” used for white people since the French were the first white people Ethiopians had encountered in the modern era. I rolled down my window and several boys reached to touch my hand, but withdrew their hands once they were close, fearing shock or contagion or who knows what.

One boy, however, put up his hand as if to give me a high-five. When I reached out in kind, he grabbed hold of my hand instead, gripping and squeezing it as if he were conducting an inspection, turning my hand over to see what the back of it was like. His hand, in turn, felt soft and satiny, not at all as I would have expected.

Quickly he dropped my hand and ran off about 20 feet to report his findings to his companions, chattering and gesturing wildly in his native language. The other half dozen boys stood wide-eyed and began laughing and cheering with his message. They began giggling and leaning on each other for support as they doubled over with laughter. I’ll never know exactly what that little boy reported, but obviously it was humorous and well-received.

And, like the little boy, it is my time to report back what I discovered “first hand” in Ethiopia.

On that same day, we had visited the remote village of Dogosoto, where the locals had recently returned from displacement from ethnic conflict. CRS was there with roof tarps (blue, of course!), housing construction kits, food and cash assistance. We spoke with one woman who was able to buy two goats and a small plot of land for the goats in order to have a livelihood for her family. The country director, John, asked what else the people needed. They responded that they need urgent health care.

While on our drive back, John made a few calls and, within a 24 hours, the local Franciscan sisters responded by arresting acute diarrhea in 20 children, while addressing several other health care needs in Dogosoto. This was all made possible by unrestricted funds available to CRS in Ethiopia.

This event reminded me of the woman who took a measure of flour and kneaded yeast into it until all of it was leavened, or the small mustard seed that grew into a huge bush which provided shelter for a multitude of birds (Mt 13:31-33). What seems like a small donation to us expands into much-needed services elsewhere in a way we will never see and will never really know.

Your help with Rice Bowl funds and other unrestricted donations made it possible for CRS to provide a rapid response to those in need where the government and other organizations were not able to do so because of bureaucracy and red tape. From now on, I will remember that nameless boy when I disseminate Rice Bowls every Lent.

Kevin Fitzpatrick is director of the Office of Justice and Peace for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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